February was characterized by an array of misinformation with regard to the developments surrounding the reported airstrike by the Indian Air Force in Balakot, Pakistan in the early hours of February 27. Since then, a deluge of misinformation took over the social media ecosystem. Mainstream media too was not immune to exaggeration.
Misinformation on social media
1. Video game clip viral as IAF attack on JeM camps
In the immediate aftermath of the IAF strike, a video began circulating on social media with the claim that it depicted the cross-border air strike by India. The video was posted by a Hindi media outlet Khabar Uttarakhand as an exclusive.
At first glance, the video did not seem genuine and resembled a clip of a video game. The faint English commentary in the background raised initial doubts. Alt News searched gaming videos on YouTube with different keywords and landed on a 2015 clip of a video game ‘Arma 2’. The part of the video which is viral on social media was taken from this game.
2. Old video shared as cross-border IAF strike
On February 26 i.e. the day of the airstrike, a video went viral claiming to be the Indian Air Force strike on terrorist camps in Pakistan. A Twitter user Ajay Kushwaha, who is followed by PM Narendra Modi on Twitter, posted the following video on his timeline.
India strikes again. This is new India under Leadership of Honourable PM Shri @narendramodi ji. India’s airforce destroyed terrorist camps in Pakistan and more than 200-300 militant have been killed According to souces.
@ImranKhanPTI how’s the josh ??#Balakot #SurgicalStrike2 pic.twitter.com/8FRaUK3TfK
— 🇮🇳अजय कुशवाहा🇮🇳 🇮🇳Ajay🇮🇳 (@AjayKushwaha_) February 26, 2019
Several social media users had commented that the video was originally from Pakistan. Alt News used the keywords ‘Islamabad paf fly past flares’ on YouTube and looked for videos which might match the one viral on social media. Alt News found that this video was posted as early as September 2016 by a YouTube user Muhammad Zohaib.
3. Images of earthquake, unrelated terror attacks shared as impact of IAF strike
A bunch of images doing rounds on social media was circulated with the claim that they depict the devastation caused by the Indian Air Force in Pakistani territory. The caption used to share the viral images was – “पुलवामा की तो तस्वीर बहुत देखी जरा आज पाकिस्तान का भी हाल देखो!!!! (Seen enough photograph of Pulwama, now see the condition of Pakistan).”
Alt News found that the above image depicts the October 2005 Kashmir earthquake. The photograph was taken in the Pakistani town of Balakot. According to a BBC report, “The earthquake had affected the northern regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. An estimated 75,000 people were killed, mostly in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.” Alt News’ story on these viral images can be read here.
4. Pak social media accounts share manufactured video of IAF jet being shot down
On February 27, the Indian Air Force engaged Pakistani jets after they violated Indian air-space in which one IAF pilot was captured from PoK after his plane was shot down. Soon after, a video began floating in the Pakistani social media ecosystem. The 30-second clip attempted to portray a Pakistani fighter jet bombing an Indian aircraft. It was shared with multiple hashtags, including #PakArmyZindabad. A member of the national assembly of Pakistan, Mian Javed Latif, also shared the video.
— Mian javed Latif MNA (@javedlatifMNA) February 27, 2019
Alt News reverse-searched individual frames of the viral clip and found that it was created using at least two different videos. The first few seconds of the viral clip, where a pilot can be seen inside the fighter jet, were picked up from a 2015 video uploaded by a Youtube channel Pakistan Defense. The second video that we found was uploaded by RT News in 2015 and described as – “The Royal Danish Air Force participated in an exercise involving an F-16 Fighting Falcon jet shooting down a remote Banshee 600 drone using guided missiles.”
5. Fake news of Surat based girl carrying out IAF airstrike
A viral message on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp claimed that the pilot of the February 26 IAF airstrike on JeM camps at Pakistan’s Balakot is a girl named Urvisha Jariwala from Bhulka Bhavan school in Surat. A BJP leader from Rajasthan, Ritalba Solanki, was among those who made the assertion.
Upon searching the keywords – “Urvisha Jariwala Indian air force” and “Urvashi Jariwala Indian air force” – Google did not throw up any results. Alt News reverse-searched the woman’s image on Google and found that she is actually IAF pilot Sneha Shekhawat. According to a 2015 Times of India report, “Sneha Shekhawat made history as the first woman pilot to lead an IAF contingent in the 63-year history of the Republic Day parades.”
6. Pak social media shares video of pilot injured in Bengaluru Aero Show as that of IAF Pilot
A video made viral by multiple Pakistani social media accounts was shared with the claims that it depicts the arrested Indian Air Force (IAF). It was shared over 18000 times alone from one Facebook page Pak Army. It was also shared widely on Twitter.
2nd Indian Pilot Arrested Alive… pic.twitter.com/TaYWNCCljY
— Dr Shahid Masood (@Shahidmasooddr) February 27, 2019
Alt News looked up this video and found that it was circulated in the Pakistani social media ecosystem with a false context. The video dates back to Feb 19, 2019, a day prior to Aero Show in Bangalore, when two Surya Kiran aircrafts crashed during rehearsal. The crash had resulted in the death of one pilot and two other pilots were injured.
Misinformation by mainstream media
The events were marked by aggressive reporting by mainstream news organisations in both nations. Truth was the casualty in the process.
1. Pakistani media uses 2016 image from Jodhpur to show IAF fighter jet shot down
Pakistani fighter jets reportedly violated Indian air space in Jammu and Kashmir on February 27 but were pushed back by IAF. Pakistani media, however, conversely claimed that Indian fighter planes violated the country’s air space and were shot down by PAF. Pakistani media has been broadcasting the shooting down of IAF jets and local news channel ARY News flashed a photograph of a shot-down aircraft.
The image flashed by ARY News dates back to 2016 when a MiG-27 fighter plane crashed into a building in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur.
2. Pakistani media shares old pictures of plane crash in Odisha as downed IAF plane
“PAF shoots down two Indian aircraft inside Pakistani airspace; one pilot arrested”, read the headline of an article published by the leading Pakistani daily, Dawn. A photo of crashed aircraft surrounded by people was also provided with the article. Iran’s Press TV had also published the same report with an identical photo.
Alt News found that the image of the aircraft which is claimed to have crashed near the LoC in Pakistan is three years old. A simple Google search of the image showed that it pertains to an Indian Air Force fighter trainer aircraft that had crashed in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha in 2015.
3. Multiple Indian media channels play old footage as IAF strike on JeM camps
With India waking up to news of the Indian Air Force bombing JeM terror camps at Balakot in Pakistan in the early hours of February 26, multiple news channels broadcasted a video, purported to be of IAF jets inside Pakistani territory. India Today has claimed that this video is the first visual of India’s cross-border strike which was conducted at around 3:30 am. Other news channels have broadcasted the video as taken in the aftermath of the strike.
Alt News found that this video, used by multiple news organisations reporting the attack by IAF, was first posted in 2017. In September 2017, a YouTube channel had uploaded a video titled ‘Flares at night Paf F-16’. This very video was used by news organisations as footage of IAF action.
Pulwama attack becomes fodder for misinformation
Apart from the events and developments surrounding the airstrike, the Pulwama terror attack which preceded it was another occasion for misinformation.
1. Rahul Gandhi shown posing with Pulwama suicide bomber
भारतीय फौज पर हमला करने बाला नीकला राहुल गांधी का खास। क्या इस हमले के पीछे कांग्रेस का हाथ तो नहीं (The man who attacked the Indian army was close to Rahul Gandhi. Is the Congress behind the attack? -translated)” read the message posted on social media along with a photograph, which showed Congress president Rahul Gandhi with Adil Ahmed Dar, the Pulwama attack suicide bomber.
The man standing next to Rahul Gandhi is not the Pulwama suicide bomber. He is in fact Jitin Prasada, a Former Minister of State in the UPA Government.
2. Old photo of PM Modi and CM Nitish Kumar shared as duo laughing after attack
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were targeted on social media for supposedly sharing a laugh after the recent Pulwama terror attack. Youth Congress tweeted a collage of photographs which included an image featuring the duo. This photograph was shared widely by several social media users, claiming explicitly or implicitly that it was clicked after the Pulwama attack.
Alt News did a Google reverse image search of the image and found that the image dates to back July, 2015. An article published by The Indian Express on July 26, 2015 had carried the photograph. The photo credited to PTI was captioned, “PM Narendra Modi, Nitish Kumar in Patna on Saturday.”Modi and Kumar had shared stage at the launch event of a railway project in Patna, months before the Bihar assembly election in 2015.
3. False claims of Gurmehar Kaur interviewed by BBC in Pakistan; statements twisted
At 1:23 PM on February 21, Twitter handle ‘Comrade Squinty’ tweeted student activist Gurmehar Kaur’s interview with BBC Urdu and claimed that it was shot in Pakistan. The handle also alleged that she “went to Pakistan just to say that an attack like Pulwama hurts minorities.” @squintneon is run by state social media in-charge of ABVP Assam, Manas Jyoti Sharma.
In the 19-second slip, Kaur can be heard saying, “When an attack like this happens it hurts our minorities and many politicians bank on this polarisation within the country before the elections. What’s most important is that citizens don’t pay heed to such talks.”
Alt News confirmed that the show was shot in the London studio and NOT in Pakistan. BBC Urdu uploaded its complete broadcast on Pulwama attack on its official YouTube channel. The reportage titled ‘Sairbeen Friday 15th February 2019 – BBCURDU’ is 17:37 minutes long and at the start of the broadcast, the anchor says in Hindi, “This is Shafi Naqi Jamie from our London studios.” The BBC journalist himself said that he was reporting from BBC Urdu’s London studios. Alt News also independently verified this.
4. General G D Bakshi makes false claim about Mehbooba Mufti and 2014 Budgam firing
In a video clip of a India TV prime time broadcast shared by social media users, Major General G D Bakshi, when asked by anchor Rajat Sharma as to how an explosive laden SUV could escape checks, General Bakshi said that this was the result of an order which was passed by Mehbooba Mufti when she was the CM of J&K in 2014. The order was passed following an incident which took place in Budgam, in which two youths had been shot dead by the army after they tried to evade security barricades.
Among those who shared this video clip included former IPS officer and Puducherry governor Kiran Bedi.
Listen to this please. pic.twitter.com/iC8Djq1a7B
— Kiran Bedi (@thekiranbedi) February 17, 2019
Alt News fact-checked this claim and found it to be false. Firstly, Mehbooba Mufti was not even the Chief Minister when the Budgam incident had occurred. Omar Abdullah was the CM. Moreover, no such order had been issued preventing checking of vehicles.
Apart from the above themes, there were some other notable instances.
1. Piyush Goyal posts dodgy video of Vande Bharat Express train
Piyush Goyal, the Union Minister for Railways, posted a video of Vande Bharat Express with the text, “It’s a bird…It’s a plane…Watch India’s first semi-high speed train built under ‘Make in India’ initiative, Vande Bharat Express zooming past at lightening speed.“. The same video has been posted on Goyal’s official Twitter and Facebook accounts.
It’s a bird…It’s a plane…Watch India’s first semi-high speed train built under ‘Make in India’ initiative, Vande Bharat Express zooming past at lightening speed. pic.twitter.com/KbbaojAdjO
— Piyush Goyal (@PiyushGoyal) February 10, 2019
Alt News found that the video posted by the Railway Minister was a clipped portion of a YouTube video, which was then speeded up to twice its original speed.
2. False claim of Rajiv and Rahul Gandhi offering Islamic prayers at Indira Gandhi’s funeral
A photograph viral on social media was shared with the claim that it depicts Rajiv and Rahul Gandhi offering Islamic prayers at Indira Gandhi’s funeral. From the Facebook profile of a youth worker at the BJP, the photograph was circulated with the caption – “इन्दिरा की लाश के सामने राहुल और राजीव गांधी कलमा पढ रहे हैं फिर भी हमारे देश के लोगों को लगता है कि ये लोग ब्राह्मण हैं। (Even though Rahul and Rajiv Gandhi offered Islamic prayers in front of Indira Gandhi’s dead body, people say they are Brahmins.)”
Upon reverse-searching the image, Alt News found a few sources which claimed that the photograph was actually shot at the funeral of Pashtun independence activist Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as Bacha Khan or ‘Frontier Gandhi’. The claim viral on social media was false. Alt News’ story can be read here.
3. False claim by BJP IT cell head on PM’s visit to Kumbh mela
Prime minister Narendra Modi took a holy dip in the Ganges in the Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh on February 24. Soon after, BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya tweeted that PM Modi is the “first head of state to visit Kumbh in all these years.”
Alt News’ fact-check reveals that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not the first Prime Minister of India to visit the Kumbh mela. It is Jawaharlal Nehru.